IT IS AN extraordinary story set 200 years before America’s first black president, 50 years before black Americans could vote and 40 years before Lincoln abolished slavery.
The year is 1821, the city New York, and two rival theatre companies are staging Richard III.
One of the productions is being put on by a white producer with a renowned English actor in the title role. The other show is by America’s first African American theatre troupe.
See those historical events recreated on stage next week when London-based theatre company, Collective Artistes brings its show, The African Company Presents Richard III, to the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
The African Company were putting on plays in downtown Manhattan during the 1820s. Faced with prejudice from the community around them and with the company’s own internal issues, tensions rose still further when the company decided to go ahead with the same show as a fiercely competitive white-owned theatre.
Semsem Kuherhi, producer for Collective Artistes, said the company was excited to be presenting this compelling true story. “With the backdrop of traditional Shakespeare mixed with modern issues and conflicts, this play showcases talent prevailing over prejudice.”
The play sees the actors in that pioneering company begin to think about performing their own stories and experiences and as a result, to find their own voice in America.
It is a moving story with continuing resonance for our times, particularly in the wake of huge political change in the US.
The show was written by Carlyle Brown, and is directed by Chuck Mike, a Nigerian-based director and playwright who was born in Brooklyn.
Chuck has lived in Nigeria for more than 30 years.
This powerful drama, which challenges the traditions of a society on the brink of change, opens at the LBT on Thursday, March 5 and runs for three evenings at 7.30pm.
The company is also running a two-hour workshop at the theatre on Saturday afternoon at 3pm. For more details or to book a workshop place, call the box office on 01484 430528.
Tickets are £8-£12 plus concessions.